Reading Wednesday

    Book Review – There There by Tommy Orange

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Such an interesting book. An astonishing story about present day Native American culture, set in Oakland California.

    Orange provides in the beginning of the book a cast of 12 characters, almost like a program for a play. I knew when I saw that this was no usual book. Through out the story I referred back to this list of characters, to help me keep track of the connection between them.

    And the connections between them is the base of the story, even though the story is told brilliant from the view of each character…sometimes a chapter focuses on one character for many many pages – sometimes for just a paragraph or two…but always pulling and manipulating and bringing these people together in a violent and intense end.

    This story is not at all what I was expecting. A deep, meaningful and painful novel of the plight of the urban Native American, told in a clear and believable voice, mixed with heritage, spirituality, substance abuse, family ties and heroism.

    Five stars for There There by Tommy Orange.

    Read last week’s review of The Map of Salt and Stars.

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    North America Travel

    My Favorite USA Cities and Places

    What I recommend to visitors from abroad

    Austin City Limits

    As we travel around the world we meet many people who want to visit the United States.  We often meet people who have visited the USA and want to go again.  But the thing I find a bit surprising is that these foreign visitors all tell me they want to visit the same places; New York, Las Vegas and Orlando.

    Maui sunset – the sun sets between Lanai and the West Maui Mountain

    Those are the top three we hear.  Sometimes Los Angeles or San Fransisco or Washington DC.  Occasionally the Grand Canyon.  But most people we meet from other countries have New York, Las Vegas and Orlando on the top of their list.

    Chicago Illinois

    Wait.  What? I really find this surprising.  The USA is huge.  I know you can’t see it all at once.  But if I was recommending to someone where to visit in the USA I would never suggest New York, Las Vegas or Orlando as my first options.

    The United States is made up of a remarkable mix of geography, geology, ecosystems, history and cultures from sea to shining sea.  If a visitor wants to see and capture and feel what America really is…they would be better served visiting some smaller cities and unique places.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had good times in New York, Las Vegas and Orlando.  I just don’t feel they are representative of the whole of the USA, particularly Vegas and Orlando.

    Seattle Washington

    So here are some suggestions I would propose to consider when visiting the USA for the first, second or tenth time. My favorite USA cities and places.

    Miami Florida

    Hudson River Valley NY 

    We visited the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York three years ago, a place I had always wanted to go for the history and beauty.  It remains one of my favorite places in America.  Rich with history of powerful people and events, it is worth a visit when in the New York area.  Read about it.

    Portland OR

    Portland is only two and half hours drive from where I live in Washington State but I don’t get down there to visit often enough.  It is one of the hippest  cities in the USA and I love the vibe, the food and the scenery.  Thanks to Empty Nesters Hit the Road for this blog.  Read it here.

    Charleston SC

    I just spent some time in beautiful Charleston, another small American city with so much historical significance.  I love it there, and hope to go back again soon.  Read about it.

    Austin TX 

    I loved Austin as well as the Texas Hill Country and San Antonio when we visited several years ago.  A wonderful mix of food, music and history in a small, manageable and oh so friendly little package.  Thanks to GypsywithaDayJob for sharing this post.  Read it here.

    Washington DC

    Long before I was a blogger I lived in Washington DC with my family when my kids were little.  We loved living there…so much history and culture and great weather too.  We didn’t mind the snow even.  We spent our days exploring everything the region had to offer.  I hope to go back some day soon.  Thanks to Wired2theWorld for this post. Read it here.

    Nashville TN

    One of the craziest and most fun weekends I ever spent was in amazing Nashville Tennessee.  The food was great, the entertainment and music non-stop and the fun abundant.  All wrapped up in an easy to navigate historic little town.  Read about it.

    Central California

    My youngest used to go to school in Central California and we spent a lot  of time visiting.  What a great excuse it was to hit the road from our home in Washington and make the trek down or back on Historic Hwy 1 enjoying the many wonders of what I believe is California’s most underrated region.  Read about it.

    Scottsdale AZ

    I’ve visited Scottsdale several times and I can’t get enough.  My favorite Arizona small town has so much to offer from golf to restaurants, history to shopping and plenty of sunshine to go around.  Read about it.

    Boston MA

    Special thanks to The Traveling Tulls for this contribution about visiting Boston.  It’s one of my favorite cities anywhere in the world, and I can’t wait to go back again soon.  Read about it.

    Miami FL

    I visited Miami for the first time last December.  It was such a surprise.  I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did, but this city is made up of a collection of neighborhoods that are each so individual and unique, it’s like visiting many cities at once.  Read about it.

    Maui HI

    For me, one of my favorite places on the entire planet is Maui.  I can never get enough and I wish I could go every year.  It’s my favorite Hawaiian Island, and even though it has grown so much since my first visit there in 1979, I still love it.  Read about it.

    New Orleans LA

    It’s been a long time since I visited New Orleans but it still remains one of my favorite USA cities.  Steeped in history and some really unique culture it is as beautiful and delicious and friendly as they come.  Thanks to Jentheredonethat for this post.  Read it here.

    Utah’s National Parks

    I love the National Parks we have in the USA and of course love the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone parks as well as the Olympic National Park in my own backyard of Washington.  But I’ve got to say my favorite USA National Parks are in the amazing and under-the-radar state of Utah.  Stunning geology, crystal clear lakes, mountains and rivers all accessible to the public.  Read about it.

    Seattle WA

    Okay this is where I grew up, and still have a home about an hour from here, but I don’t usually write about how much I LOVE this city.  It is THE place to be in the USA in the summer, with the absolute best summer weather.  Don’t even get me started about the food.  So thanks to Wired2TheWorld for this post about Seattle.  Read it here.

    Denver CO

    I’ve been to Denver and the surrounding area and National Parks several times and I can’t wait to go back and spend even longer enjoying this beautiful place.  Some of our country’s most stunning scenery and outdoor recreation is at the finger tips of Denver’s sports-enthusiastic  population.  And lots of great food too.  Thanks to The Travel Bunny for this post.  Read it here.

    Chicago IL

    For a big city Chicago doesn’t feel big.  It’s a walkable, eatable, loveable place with what I think is some of the best public art and museums in the entire USA.  Thanks to World Travel Tribe for this blog.  Read it here.

    Charleston South Carolina
    Nashville TN

    So no matter where you live, in the USA or far far away, consider some of these beautiful and amazing cities and places when you are planning your USA adventures. You won’t regret it.

    Zion NP, Utah

    Special thanks to my travel blogging friends for their assistance with this post!

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review – The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    One of the best books I’ve read since The Dovekeepers, and similar in style. This beautifully written and Homeric first novel by Joukadar is poetic and powerful. I enjoyed every word.

    Similar to works by Houssein about Afghanistan, Joukhadar takes us to ancient Syria and present day war torn Syria in a melodic tale that weaves fact and fiction, myth and legend, family and heartbreak.

    The story follows two young girls in alternating timelines, one traveling and posing as a boy in ancient Syria on a mapmaking odyssey reminiscent of Homer. The other a young girl posing as a boy to survive crossing multiple borders in war torn present day Middle East North Africa along a similar route to survive the horrific and brutal destruction of her families home country.

    A remarkably told story, gripping and beautiful. I highly recommend this debut novel. I learned a lot about Syria both past and present and have a greater appreciation of the devastation for the innocent victims of this violent situation. I look forward to more works by Joukhadar.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar.

    Read last week’s review of A Long Way Gone.

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    At Home

    A Summer Remodel

    Eight Weeks and Done

    Location: Port Orchard Washington USA

    We hit the ground running (as usual) when we arrived in Washington State on May 9th. Back in the USA for a four month visit with our family and friends before heading off again for another year of travel.

    Living room when we arrived on May 9th (see cover photo for living room now)

    In addition to spending time with our aging parents and our adult children, we set out to tackle a remodel of the “villa” (condo) we bought last fall sight unseen. Four months seemed like it would be a lot of time to enjoy all the things we wanted to do and get the remodel done. Not so much. Wow, time moves faster than it used to.

    Fireplace before

    Our goal was to get the remodel done by July 1st. We worked tirelessly for weeks, eating dust and sleeping on the floor as we tore into the dated condo to make it more modern and to fit our personal style.

    Fireplace after

    We just missed the mark of July 1st. We officially wrapped up the project on July 2nd…with a tiny hand full of tweaks left to do here and there over the next two months.

    Laundry room
    Guest bedroom

    Here is what we did in just under an 8-week period;

    • Removed a wall and moved the wiring
    • Painted the kitchen cabinets, utility cabinets and guest bath cabinets
    • Removed wallpaper from guest bath
    • Added cabinet hardware
    • Painted the entire interior
    • New washer, dryer, refrigerator, range, microwave and dishwasher
    • Brought gas into the kitchen
    • New luxury vinyl wood look floors throughout the house
    • New floor trim
    • Painted all the trim and doors
    • Replaced all the interior and exterior door hardware
    • Updated the fireplace with new surround and hearth
    • New kitchen counters
    • New kitchen backsplash
    • Replaced five light fixtures inside and three outside
    • Unpacked dozens of boxes
    • Got new-to-us and brand-new furniture
    • Painted new-to-us furniture
    • New curtains
    • Decorated
    • Organized the garage and attic
    • Removed outdoor dead plants and replaced with new
    • Kicked back and had a gin and tonic
    Bedroom when we arrived in May

    We left one project for next summer – a full master bathroom remodel. That will be a big undertaking for when we return to the USA again next June.

    Bedroom now

    We were assisted in this project by Gordy Lund, my brother-in-law, who always does such nice work, Valona Painting, Precision Countertops, and Affordable Interiors and Flooring.

    Kitchen before – note wall on right that we removed
    Kitchen after – note the colored tiles we bought in Portugal and incorporated randomly in the backsplash

    We were so happy to get it done. And it looks absolutely beautiful. I love the layout of this one-level villa. I love the neighborhood. I love the landscaping. Most of all I love how peaceful it is. We have beautiful wooded trails; flat, safe running and cycling; and a golf course to boot. Guess I’m gonna have to take up golf next summer!

    Reading Room

    So from July 3rd through the rest of the summer we will be entertaining family and friends and just enjoying our new home. I am particularly enjoying having all my things around me again, after these being in storage for more than three years. It feels good.

    Office and Sewing Room
    Welcome to our new home Villa de Verano (Summer House)

    But we still plan to continue to travel. We have a house-sitter in place to care for our home between September and June as we continue on our Grand Adventure. We look forward to coming “home” again next June and staying through Christmas.

    I call this the museum – a place for all our special travel mementoes

    I feel really blessed to have the best of both worlds; a beautiful place to call home, and a life of full-time travel. Lucky, fabulous me.

    New floors going in

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review – A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Book Review – A Long Way Gone by Ismael Beah

    I had heard a lot about this book over the past few years but hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Until my mother-in-law gave it to my husband, with a stack of other wonderful books, as a birthday gift.

    I immediately picked it up before my husband could start it and began to read. Although Ishmael is not a brilliant writer, the story is so compelling and incredible you can’t put it down.

    Born in Sierra Leone in 1981, Ishmael’s young life is rocked at the age of 12 when Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war comes knocking on his door. Over the next five years Ishmael’s incredible story unfolds in the pages of A Long Way Gone as he fights for survival.

    Unlike many, he does survive, but the scars of his existence during the war will never heal. Loosing everybody he loved, Ishmael endures things no one, and certainly not a child, should ever need to endure.

    This extraordinary account of the life of children during bloody civil war should make us all pause and be grateful and then go out and try to make a difference in the world.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

    Read last week’s review of A Room with a View

    Food & Drink

    My Favorite Cooking Classes Around the World

    Fabulous Travel Adventures

    I don’t take a cooking class in EVERY country, but I’d like to.  I love to learn about local cultures through food and I look for that experience when I can find it.  In some countries finding a class is difficult or impossible.  Other times it just doesn’t fit my schedule.  But I always make an effort and when I do attend a class I am never disappointed.  Just today I signed up for a cooking class for my upcoming visit to Hong Kong.

    I can recommend all of the cooking classes below…many of these I have written blogs about and you can click directly to read those blog entries.  I encourage you to consider cooking classes, even if

    Cooking Class in Tuscany

    Cooking in Tuscany

    cooking isn’t a big part of your life.  Taking a class in a foreign country with local people, often in their homes and with their families, is one of the most rewarding ways to open up the cultural lines of communication all while enjoying a delicious and fun experience.  Fabulous!

    Tuscany/Italy – My first cooking class took place in Tuscany with a group of friends we were traveling with seven years ago.  We learned to make an amazing meal from the owner of the Villa where we were staying.  She was a former chef and chocolatier!  Our amazing meal included handmade pasta, vegetable terrine, beef loin and lots and lots of wine.

    Argentina – We took a very fun cooking class in Buenes Aires during our two day visit prior to getting on a cruise ship.  Unfortunately we were so jet-legged the experience is a little bit fuzzy in my memory.  The class was

    Cooking Class in South Korea

    Cooking in South Korea

    held in the home of the chef, and there were about 8 people in attendance. We made several different kinds of empanadas, made delicious chimichurri sauce and butter cookies and  learned about Matte – the unique and ubiquitous drink of Argentina.

    South Korea – in Seoul I spent two full days with a world famous South Korean Chef the Korean Food and Culture Academy and it remains one of my all time favorite experiences.  One of the days I was with just one other student.  The second day I was with four other students.  I learned to cook about a dozen dishes including Kimchee and I have used these recipes over and over

    Cooking Class in Croatia

    Cooking in Croatia

    ever since.  Who knew Korean food was so amazing?  I didn’t and that is one of the best parts of the experience.

    Croatia – I’m a sucker for slow roasted meats and it’s one of the staple foods in many of the East European countries.  My experience in Croatia was a mouth watering one, learning the ancient and incredibly delicious process of cooking Peka over an open fire.  The lamb dish is spectacularly delicious and a celebratory Croatian speciality.

    Guatemala – I loved my full-day private cooking class in Antiqua Guatemala. I had the chef all to myself and an English translator.  We made several dishes, enough to feed an army, and I ended up taking all the food home to enjoy another full meal with my husband.  Learning

    Cooking Class in Spain

    Cooking in Spain

    to make the tortillas was a favorite activity, that proved much more difficult that you might expect!

    Morocco – In Asilah Morocco we were blessed to have the most wonderful Airbnb that included a daily housekee and full-time cook.  What a special treat that was during our ten days in this tiny

    Cooking Class in Thailand

    Cooking in Thailand

    ocean front village.  Each day she cooked for us and we watched and learned from her.  We also went with her to the market and learned about the local specialities from tagine to couscous.

    Thailand – It’s a tough call for me to say which class was my favorite but I would definitely put my two days at the Thai Kitchen Cookery School in Chiang Mai very near the top.  It was a comedy of errors how I ended up there, but in hindsight I was so glad I did.  I loved the class, the staff and the wonderful foods I enjoyed over my two-days with them.

    South Africa – Several of the classes I have taken over the years have been in the personal homes of the chef, bringing me closer to the local

    Cooking Class in Belize

    Cooking in Belize

    culture in a familiar and family way. In Capetown South Africa my husband and enjoyed a wonderful evening in the home of our Chef who taught us about local cuisine from the African culture with the European influence.  We ate Emu for the first time and many other delicious dishes as well as exceptional South African wines with our Chef and her husband.

    Vietnam – One of my all time favorite cooking experiences was in Hoi An Vietnam, which coincidentally is also one of my all time favorite cities.  I took an all day class at the famous Mrs. Vys Cooking School.

    Cooking Class in South Africa

    Cooking in South Africa

    The class began with a bike ride around the city that included stops at several markets, a beautiful organic community garden and at the home of a bean sprout farmer .  I learned so much and enjoyed the bike ride as well.  Returning to the school we toured the multiple cooking stations within the school watching the professionals making food beautiful before heading upstairs to the kitchen to tackle our own recipes.  I ate so much that day, and learned so much, and highly recommend this place if you are ever in Hoi An.  I hope to return some day.

    Spain – I loved Barcelona, and especially loved the famous Mercado de la Boqueria for its color and festive atmosphere as well as delicious and fresh food.  It was here where my class began, touring, tasting and

    Cooking Class in Poland

    Cookin in Poland

    purchasing the ingredients before heading upstairs to cook.  Our three-hours class included such Catalan specialities as paella, gazpacho and Spanish Tortilla.  I have cooked these items many times since.

    Poland  – Krakow is one of my favorite European cities, under-appreciated by many visitors to Europe.

    Cooking Class in Vietnam

    Cooking in Vietnam

    We loved the food of Krakow and did a food walking and drinking tour as well as a pierogi cooking class.  My teacher was a young college student who was born and raised in Krakow.  We met at the market where she helped us speak Polish to the vendors to acquire the ingredients we needed for our dish.  We then proceeded to her tiny, communist era apartment where we maneuvered around her little kitchen learning to make the dough and the stuffing for several different pierogi.  It was one of my favorite classes ever.

    Belize  – Learning about the food and culture of the Garifuna people of Belize, with our two adult sons was a highlight of our family time together in Belize.  Cooking outdoors on an open fire with Chef Gloria doing everything from breaking and shredding the coconut to pounding the yams with a wooden mallet made the final delicious dinner all the more satisfying and fun.

    So those are some of my favorite cooking class experiences over the past several years.  To be sure I will be writing about more wonderful cooking experiences in the future. Because life is fabulous and delicious!

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    I had never read this classic and popular story by E.M. Forster but I had definitely seen the 1985 Merchant Ivory film adaptation (glorious) and have also seen the play adaptation on stage ( which includes the full skinny dip scene – hilarious).

    Reading the book however I found a bit more difficult, wading through the English tendency to talk in circles.  The story of a young English girl looks at the social class structure of England as it began to shift in the early part of the 20th century.

    Like other similarly written stories of the time, a strong-willed but naive young woman (Miss Honeychurch) walks the reader through a series of events beginning in Florence Italy, continuing on to Rome and returning back to England.  The events look at the sometimes ridiculous social etiquette of the era, with a lot of romance, confusion and sometimes long drawn out English conversations.

    Both sweet and funny, with one of the funniest scenes in literature playing out when the young ladies happen upon  the young men skinny dipping in the pond, the comedy of errors is a fun if sometimes slow read, but a classic to be enjoyed.

    Four stars for A Room with a View by E.M. Forster.

    Read last week’s review of Florida.